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Shepherding the Flock (1 Peter 5:1-5)

Series: 1 Peter (Living in Exile)

Judgment is beginning now at God’s house, so, in our text, Peter exhorts the elders over God’s house.


Let's rewind for a moment to setup Peter's words. It is 591 BC and Ezekiel is sitting in his home in exile outside of Babylon. The elders of Judah had come to hear a word from the Lord. The exiles had been away from home for six years and felt this whole thing was an injustice that would end soon. Their fathers were responsible, not them. Soon, they would go home — exile will have been a bad dream… but Ezekiel’s theatrics caught their attention, so they went to listen to him.


As the elders sat in his presence, Ezekiel was brought in a vision to the temple in Jerusalem — the delight of their eyes that they longed to return to and behold. And there Ezekiel saw ugliness — the temple was defiled with all manner of idolatry. So, six executioners were brought near and told to strike down everyone in Jerusalem who was not marked by God. But, before they begin, they are told, “Begin at my sanctuary.” And then Ezekiel tells us the executioners “began with the elders who were before the house.” In Ezekiel judgment is falling upon the nations, upon Judah, and Jerusalem. But God’s judgment, Peter later warns us in Ezekiel-like words, began and begins “at the house of God.” There’s may be good reason Peter now says, “So, I exhort the elders among you…” Elders in the past failed to be pure and to prove God’s house pure, and he doesn’t want history to repeat itself.


Christ’s glory will be revealed and the righteous are barely saved to partake in that. So, among all people, we have actually signed up to suffer first to be tested and refined so we can be proved — like gold — to be genuine before that final day. We are living stones being built as God’s house — but we are not yet the temple we should be. So God wills that we endure judgement, suffering, and refinement now. Therefore, we desperately need elders to shepherd the flock.


In our text, Peter first exhorts the elders before speaking to the rest of us — especially those of us who are younger. Therefore, for the first half of our sermon, I’m speaking to our elders — but my prayer is this: God, give other men in our church a heart for God’s people. Give other men the desire, ability, love, and knowledge to shepherd this flock. So I am also speaking to those of you who I hope will prepare to take up their cloaks — in 5, 10, 20, or 30 years.


Shepherding the Flock (5:1-4)

Peter offers four exhortations and one goal to look forward to.


First, shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight. Elders and future ones, you must understand that we are like sheep. We don’t know where green pastures and still waters are. We need to be led and fed and protected. On our own, we don’t feed on the most nutritious pastures. Further, some fat sheep and wolves who want to bully and take advantage of us are hoping you’ll step away, look the other way; but those who are true sheep feel anxious if you aren’t present to carefully guide, feed and protect us. We might foolishly resist you at times, but we are blessed to have you as elders. Please don’t stop exercising oversight and shepherding us. And, do shepherd — there is other work to be done in the church and life that we beg you let others do.


Note that he says to shepherd the flock of God. While you must take a measure of responsibility for us, some elders — pastors — become possessive: this is my flock to guide as I see fit. This is God’s flock.

And he says to shepherd the flock of God that is among you. I don’t believe Peter says this as to discourage concern for the larger flock of God: Peter is an elder who is serving that need by writing this letter and that concern should not die with the apostles. However, do shepherd this flock of God. At some point, you must focus on the sheep where God has placed you. Don’t lose sight of us… trying to take upon yourself the responsibility for the whole flock of God everywhere or even wondering about more compliant sheep elsewhere. Moses was not able carry the title “Chief Shepherd” and you won’t be able to either — thank God for Jesus.


Second, exercise oversight willingly, not under compulsion. I appreciated John’s encouragement to us last week to find joy in whatever we do and to not do a work if we cannot take joy in it. Elders, if you only serve because you feel you have to, you will run out of steam, you won’t model joy, and it would have been better that you not serve. I have seen occasions where people in various positions were not willing to serve any more, but they held onto the role. In these situations, work stagnates and people become discouraged — including people who might be pleased to relieve them of their duties. Find it in yourself to do this work willingly — and if not, actively seek to pass off your staff and cloak to someone else.


Third, related, not for shameful gain, but eagerly. While John and I receive pay from you as evangelists, our three elders have decided to serve us without pay. We joked during the pandemic that we should pay the elders double since the burden during the pandemic was much heavier. John even suggested we pay them triple. In all seriousness, our elders do not receive pay, but, to my knowledge, that has always been the historical norm. And I hope and trust it will be our honor to rise to the occasion to pay our elders if we and they desire to do that. I don’t care much that doctors exist until me or my family are terribly sick, and then we are all thankful doctors have put in tremendous time to wisely prepare to walk with us through difficulty. But they had to go through a lot of schooling and training to be ready for that. I think pastoring and preparing to do that may have some parallels. Some may show their eagerness to shepherd the flock by preparing diligently in schooling and training by giving themselves fully to the work of an elder. May we be ready to shoulder that for our own good.


But how many pastors have been caught up in financial scandals — shameful gain! How many even simply shepherd or preach simply because they are in the market for a job to put food on the table. Church, I caution you to never bring on someone who is merely looking for a job. As in the days of Micah, they may preach “peace” to those who fill their stomachs, but declare war against those who do not. Elders, other jobs you might simply be happy if you are paid, but this must be a work you are eager to do regardless.


Fourth, not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. This is the same word Jesus used when he said that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over. Some people revel in calling the shots. Parents, you know the desire that can come up in us to micromanage our children — we aren’t looking for that. Jesus is not looking for leaders riding chariots to whip us from behind and call out orders, he is looking for leaders who will walk with and in front of us to show us by example how to be. That means we don’t need elders to rule as CEOs, but again as examples. And I would offer this caution — you may certainly learn a lot about leadership from the business world, but we need to be careful about translating that to the church. Some things may be applicable and helpful, but people, money, and time all work differently here. Our goals are different — so much is different. For one, we aren’t doing various things in order to get to a completely different end — money or a larger company. Our means are very much part of our end.

Peter offers a goal for you to look at, elders: when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Those who won contests in their day received leafy crowns that would quickly fade and wilt. It’s easy to get caught up wondering if our work will be will be recognized by anyone in this age. Whatever recognition we receive in this age will fade. But, elders, you have a Chief Shepherd who is watching and hoping to reward you with an unfading crown of glory, recognition and reward for your work that will never fade.


This reminds me of Luke 12 when Jesus encourages us that while he is gone, the master will appoint chief servants to ensure the other servants are cared for. Luke 12:43–44 ESV, “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will set him over all his possessions.” I cannot fathom all that awaits us at the Lord’s return — but consider that if you serve well as elders, when he returns, truly, he will set you over much.


Note by the way that both Peter and Jesus here have their sights set not on some reward at death but on the return, the appearance of Jesus. I know it is challenging because so many of our songs focus on a reward at the end of our personal lives. And in a couple of places Scriptures do speak of the rest we will have when we die — thank God for that! But 99% of Scripture urges us to not to look at our individual graves but to our collective hope in the clouds at the end of all history.


Be Subject to the Elders; Clothe Yourselves with Humility (5:5)

Now, Peter turns to the rest of us in verse 5 with a special word towards those of us who are younger. I remember when I first came here Troxel explained that previous generations were characterized by a spirit of joining something larger than themselves and committing to it to the bitter end. They followed their fearless leaders to the death — sometimes turning a blind eye to skeletons in the closet. It’s hard for me to emphasize how different our generation is. Our age is now characterized by individualism. I am willing to follow as long as you help me feel comfortable in my own skin and as long as your polite requests are crafted around my personal goals and schedules. And if you ever say anything I disagree with that makes me feel uncomfortable, you have not made me feel safe, and I will leave. Church, if you are fully imbedded within the spirit of this age as much as I have been, we will say together: I should be committed to the group and the leaders as long as it is best for me — and we won’t see what is wrong with that.


The spirit of our age has lead to a widespread loss: it is very difficult for leaders of any group to carry authority or weight to lead anywhere. Sometimes this reaction is very understandable — leaders are not always trustworthy. But, see, our definition of untrustworthy includes this large, made-up category called: they have my best interests at heart. That’s a difficult thing to judge, and that shouldn’t be at the top of our list.


This often leads to a cafeteria-style way of following the elders. I’ll pick what I want and leave what I don’t. But we don’t always put the best things on our plate when we visit buffets.


This will now be a challenge for anyone in our world, old or young — individualism is part of the air we breath. Someone will be committed to something for years, but if I judge that my best interests aren’t your number one concern, I’ll cancel you.


But this can especially be a challenge for those of us who are young. This is why you see so many hip churches popping up in the past couple of decades started by young people for young people. They’re tired of the stiff ways of the older generation. But, those of us who are younger need to consider: what will it be like when we are older? When we wish the younger generation would bend their ears? We know. If we don’t model that humility and 100% commitment to the church and her elders even when it is hard, neither will our children be committed and subject to the church, the elders, or even to us when we are older. If we insist our tired leaders make church fit our needs, our kids will insist that of us when we are older.


This doesn’t mean elders are always right. It doesn’t mean there is not a time for us to exhort them. We all fall short in various ways and we all need encouragement.


This also doesn’t mean Peter is calling for mindless obedience. If this sounds like that to you, Satan is nearer to you than you think. Elders are in fact hoping for you to come fully awake and alert with your will and desires and creativity and passion for God’s glory fully intact. I just love it when when God puts it on someone’s heart to serve Jesus and his church in ways none of us considered.


None of this is a call to blindly follow, this is a call for us to be alert to our tendency to arrogant. Our tendency to think we know it all or that we don’t need shepherding. This is a call to humility. Peter is roughly quoting Proverbs 3:34, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. Normally we consider this in relation to God — I need to be humble towards God and not proud towards God. And this is good. But Peter urges this in the context of the church — all of us need to clothe ourselves with humility in our interactions with one another. God will give grace to those who are humble towards others. There will always be friction here and there in the church — iron sharpens iron. If there’s no friction we probably aren’t trying very hard. But, I like how one author put it: “Humility is the oil that allows relationships in the church to run smoothly and lovingly.” (Schreiner 238)



Judgment begins now with God’s house. We have signed up to suffer in this age. We need wise, eager elders to shepherd us through the valley of the shadow of death. We need to follow our elders where they guide us. They have been there before.

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